Friday, February 22, 2008

NY Times on British Health System

The February 21, 2008 New York Times has published an article suprisingly critical of the British socialized National Health Service (or NHS). Here are some excerpts:
Paying Patients Test British Health Care System

...One such case was Debbie Hirst's. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologist's support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment.

By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor.

"He looked at me and said: 'I'm so sorry, Debbie. I've had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,' " Mrs. Hirst said in an interview.

"I said, 'Where does that leave me?' He said, 'If you pay for Avastin, you'll have to pay for everything'" -- in other words, for all her cancer treatment, far more than she could afford.

Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.

...But in a final irony, Mrs. Hirst was told early this month that her cancer had spread and that her condition had deteriorated so much that she could have the Avastin after all -- paid for by the health service. In other words, a system that forbade her to buy the medicine earlier was now saying that she was so sick she could have it at public expense.
I blogged about this issue last month ("Better Equal Than Good"). Now that this issue has gotten the attention of the New York Times, perhaps patients like Debbie Hirst and Collette Mills will finally get some justice (and medical care) from the NHS.

Note the central moral issue: Being allowed to spend one's own honestly-earned money on something that will benefit one's own life is considered "unfair" by the British government.

When a government uses force to stop people from acting in their rational self-interest, it is no surprise that the results are misery and death.

(Via Amit Ghate, who has a good post on this topic as well.)